Human touch is not always humane. Here are a few tips for anybody travelling/transiting via Srinagar airport:
- Set aside at least 90 extra minutes to navigate through the maze of security protocols & maze.
- Unless you are prepared to walk for a mile and can lift your suitcases with ease multiple times, please opt for special wheelchair assistance (a chargeable service provided by most airlines)
- Remember the pre-paid phones & data cards don’t work, news websites & social media is banned. So buy a book, but don’t buy anything that has the word human rights or harassment by gunmen on its cover.
- Don’t freak out at the sight of numerous birds at Srinagar airport. These are not carrions and are especially trained by ornithology department to steer away from any incoming aircrafts to prevent any mishaps due to bird-hits.
- Any knowledge of local customs, costumes or gestures will make you a prime target for special attention. Speak only in Hindi/English not Urdu/kashmiri and dress up in clothes worn by mainland Indians not local costumes.
- Have an enlarged print of your tickets & I card handy. Hanging them over your neck or pasting them on your forehead might not be a bad idea considering the numerous occasions you will be asked to produce them.
I am not trying to belittle the dire state of the law & order situation in Kashmir. Also this airport is shared by airforce which makes its security protocols determined by military. Lastly there are no all-weather roads to Kashmir valley. This airport is the only link to the mainland for the 700,000 security personnel deployed there. My experience last week at Srinagar airport was a stark contract with any airport in the world.
- I was stopped a mile before the airport building and asked to produce my I card & tickets.
- The moment you enter the airport vicinity (remember you cannot still see the airport yet), you, your driver etc need to walk up a 5 feet high ramp with all luggage. The x ray machine is another couple of feet high and your bags need manually lifted. Then after a round of through frisking, id check etc of the car & you. The bags need to be again carried back to the car & you can drive to the next security check.
- Drive through about 5 barricades where your car will be asked to make steep left-right turns and imagine you are playing a video-game.
- Volha- you have reached the airport building. Please disembark (again) and produce your papers.
- Please walk to the next available x ray machine, produce your papers and try not to complain about sore-wrists while lifting your bags (again)
- Go to the airline desk. I was lucky to be greeted by a charming smile which made me forget for a second that I am inside a military establishment. I handed the lady at the counter my bags, but apparently the bags were not done with me. (read point 14)
- Now produce your papers (this time onwards, it needs to be accompanied by your boarding pass as well)
- Go to the x ray machine (lift the bags again)
- Go for a really personal touch & try to cool yourself by imagining that the physical frisking is a spa massage. Don’t forget to get your boarding pass stamped, else you will be pushed back to step 7.
- The x ray machine guy will direct your bag to his superior officer who will personally open the bag and verify its belongings. Then he will put a a stamp on your baggage tags.
- You will be again required to produce your boarding pass and bags. The security will verify the stamping on them & dates etc. before you can proceed to the boarding gate
- At the gate, the airline employee will verify your boarding pass and allow you ahead.
- A security personal standing not more than 2 feet away will again verify your papers. If you have checked in any bag, you will be required to take a detour. You need to physically travel to the baggage handing zone and again identify your bags.
- Baggage handling guy will verify your papers, allow you to collect your bags. Then he will verify the code mentioned in your bags and in the small stickers attached to the boarding pass are the same. Then he will stamp his approval.
- Then you need to come back to the guy no 13 and show the identification marks before proceeding to the aerobridge.
- In the middle of the aerobridge there will be another security personal who will make you empty all your hand baggage and verify the contents.
- Another guy at the end of the aerobridge to verify your papers before you are allowed entry into the plane.
- The air-hostess will collect your boarding pass, guide you to your seat and smile to cool you off.
6 months ago, I had written about the state of Delhi & Bangalore airport security. I had made special reference to the employment opportunity created by deploying 12 different personnel to personally verify & escort a passenger to the seat. I also had some concerns on the effectiveness of the security protocols esp. when 47 instances were reported and 200kg of gold went missing from the customs vault over the six-month period of April to September 2016 at IGI airport alone. However last week police have nabbed Sanjiv Kumar, superintendent of customs department Sonipat and has contained the situation. Hopefully Srinagar airport can now receive its special attention and can rationalize the number of security provisions that one needs to go through.